Monday, August 31, 2009

Some New Whiskeys

I sometimes find the recent, non-stop onslaught of new, better, rarer, more precious and more prestigious whiskeys to be somewhat overwhelming. But the whiskey industry does not really care about my dizzy spells, so they keep on coming out with new versions of their dark amber product. Chuck Cowdery, who has an estimable blog about American whiskey, was good enough to round up the a list of Yankee-born coming attractions. See if you can keep them straight:

Parker's Heritage Golden Anniversary. A limited edition bourbon to commemorate Parker Beam's 50 years as master distiller at Heaven Hill Distillery. 100° proof, $150, out now.

Jefferson's Presidential Select. A McLain & Kyne bottling of 17-year-old Stitzel-Weller wheated bourbon. 94° proof, $90, out now.

Four Roses Mariage 2009 Limited Edition bourbon. Four Roses is unique because it makes ten different bourbon recipes. This is a mixture of two of them, one at 19-years-old, the other at 10. 112.4° proof, $70, out mid-September.

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2009. This is actually five limited edition whiskeys: William LaRue Weller Wheated Bourbon, Eagle Rare 17-year-old Bourbon, George T. Stagg Bourbon, Thomas H. Handy Rye, and Sazerac 18-year-old Rye. Various proofs, prices $60+, out October.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 2009. Two releases, both double-barreled. The 1993 vintage spent 8-years in a new barrel followed by 8 more in another new barrel. The 1997 vintage spent 8-years in a new barrel follwed by 4 more in another new barrel. If you want to experience what that tastes like, buy both. If you just want the one that tastes good, buy the 1997. Proof and price unknown. Out October.

Rittenhouse Very Rare 25-year-old Single Barrel Rye. Heaven Hill has done something very interesting here, they have sold this same batch of whiskey at 21-, 23-, and now 25-years-old. Proof and price unknown. Release date unknown.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mad Men and Drinking, Season Three, Part I

"Mad Men"'s third season is two shows into its run, so perhaps it's time to look at some of the specifics of the AMC series' depiction of the substantial drinking life of Americans in the early 1960s, and Madison Avenue ad men in particular.

The time is spring 1963. There have been some fun alcoholic cameos so far. Roger Sterling, one of the chiefs of the ad agency Sterling Cooper, sent home some contraband Stolichnaya vodka while on vacation in Greece with his new, young wife Jane. Stoli did not become available in the U.S. until 1972, when PepsiCo forged a landmark barter agreement with the then government of the Soviet Union, in which PepsiCo was granted exportation and Western marketing rights to Stolichnaya vodka in exchange for importation and Soviet marketing of Pepsi-Cola. So Stoli in 1963 was an exotic beast. Roger treats it as such, only letting executives of his rank sample it.

Otherwise, in Episode One (titled "Out of Town"), there's the usual parade of Martinis and Old Fashioned. Nobody is cutting down. There's an interesting scene at the end of the episode where Bert Cooper, who usually abstains from drinking, indulges in a brandy after a hard day.

In Episode Two ("Love Among the Ruins"), Sterling takes some Bailey's Irish Cream early in the day, and pours his ex-wife Mona some Sherry. Copywriter Peggy Olson is bought a Stinger by a young lothario in an Irish pub. "It's called a Stinger," he says. "I don't know what's in it." (Thus, we don't know if Peggy got one with brandy or the more trendy vodka.) An old cocktail, it was nonetheless in the public eye at that time, featured in the 1957 film "Kiss Them For Me," starring Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield, and the 1960 film "The Apartment" starring Jack Lemmon.

Art director Don Draper and his wife Betty are taken out to eat by Lane Pryce, the new Limey overlord of Sterling Cooper since it merged with a British company. Pryce makes a big show of ordering a bottle of Lafite-Rothschild 1949. This is perhaps the most significant appearance of a specific wine on the series since it began, and is a signifier of class. The British were much more deeply schooled in fine wine than Americans at that point. Mrs. Laine, a picture of snobbery, tells the waiter, "I'm very impressed that you have this." Betty's only reaction (and he drinks while pregnant) is "That's delicious." I don't doubt it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Beer That Tastes Like a Manhattan

Last week, I took Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver up on a long-standing invitation to tour the Williamsburg brewery.

I chose a good time to visit. As many have read recently, Oliver—inspired by the bartender Don Lee's bacon-infused bourbon Manhattan at PDT—is in the process of trying a create a bacon-infused beer. Like Lee, he is employing the ballyhooed bacon of Allan Benton. So, when I arrived, the entire brewery on 11th Street smelled of breakfast. Oliver allowed me a whiff of the special, smokey-smelling malt he's using for the beer, as well as the Benton's derived bacon fat, explaining that the two, put together, will create the illusion of bacon.

I'm hoping to tasted some of this Frankenstein creation when it's ready, but that may be a long shot. Oliver explained that he's only making 25 cases and it won't likely be made available to the consumer.

But, that's OK. Oliver is constantly inventing new potions, and many are available to the thirsty masses. The rate of creation is due mainly to the Brewmaster's Reserve series. Oliver comes up with a new beer every two months (that's six times a year), which is released in limited qualities in keg form and available at select bars.

Oliver is apparently currently obsessed with making beers taste like things that they are not, because the next Brewmaster's Reserve, called The Manhattan Project and due out on Sept. 15, is being made to taste like a Manhattan Cocktail.

Let's say that again. It's a beer that tastes like a Manhattan Cocktail.

Oliver said this is the first time he's used a cocktail (his favorite cocktail, FYI) as a model for a beer. (Cocktail expert David Wondrich is providing some counsel and advice.) Here's the plan. Thirty percent of the mash will be rye. Thirty percent of the beer will be aged in rye barrels from Rittenhouse. The wash will also be infused with a variety of herbs commonly found in vermouth. Also, some cherry juice many be involved in there somewhere.

Sounds delicious to me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bad Liquor Advertising

After years of surveying liquor advertising in subways car and stations, on the sides of buses, on bus shelters and telephone booths, and on the side of huge buildings in Times Square, it is my general contention that most liquor advertising is mind-numbingly, sense-offendingly bad. The approach of most campaigns appears to be to play to the sense of screamingly bad taste that apparently living in the core of us all.

Vodka is the greatest offender. I can think of few vodka ads right now that don't cause me to involuntarily turn away in revulsion. Gin is usually on the more dignified side. Take this Tanqueray ad. There are no trashy women in sight, no tattooed men. And I can live with the slogan "Resist Simple," even is the word "Simple" is reverse mirrored version of itself.

But, "Depth Your Mouth Can See"? It's a sentence any self-respected English major (as I am) would rebel against on sight. That phrase has a few miles to go if it's going to see the city limits of clever. And, somehow, the word "see" and "mouth" in the same sentence makes my stomach flip a bit. If resisting simple means the embracing of incomprehensible sentiments, I'll take simple.

Drink What "21" Drinks

Want to drink what the swells at the "21" Club drink, but at home? Here's your chance. The famed New York eatery is offering up some choice blocks of its overstuffed wine cellar holding for auction. The sale will take place at Christie's on Sept. 12. (The day after my birthday. Hint, hint.)

more than 630 bottles from the "21" cellars will be on the block.

What's available? Well, you know what those bigwigs like. Bordeaux and Burgundy. Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Mouton-Rothchild, Cheval-Blanc, Haut-Brion, as well as some slightly lesser bottles. Much of this is from the 2005 Bordeaux vintage, which has been heralded as hot stuff. There's also some from 2000, another big deal vintage, and '88, '85, '82, etc. I also saw some Rothschild, Latour and Haut-Brion from 1945 on the roster. Oldest? Some Romanee-Conti from 1934. Bring along $8,000 is you want a bottle.

You could get two bottles of Screaming Eagle 2006 for $3,500, a price that would make any eagle scream. Estimated prices in general range from $300 to $40,000 (1 jeroboam of Latour 1959), $45,000 (a jeroboam of Latour 1949) and $60,000 (three magnums of Cheval-Blanc 1947).

Don't have that much to spend? Go for the six half bottles of Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2003. Only $100. Poor riesling. Always undervalued.

When asked why they were getting rid of so much good wine, a spokesperson for "21" cited housekeeping. They've only got so much space in the basement, and they have to bring some new bottles in.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Manhattan Cocktail Classic Fleshes Out Seminar Line-Up

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, the new New York City-based, cocktail-centric industry event, has released a detailed run-down of its seminar line-up. Some of this information has already been announced—though the Sasah Petraske event appears to be a new addition—but the following capsule write-ups give you a better idea of what to expect in October.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

“Have Cocktail Shaker, Will Travel” with Charlotte Voisey & Simon Ford
Once the last legal cocktail was served on the eve of Prohibition in New York City, things would never be the same again. ‘Have cocktail shaker, will travel’ was the mindset of many a passionate barkeep in the 1920s when their craftsmanship turned criminal. Join Charlotte Voisey, Simon Ford, and other assorted friends for a jovial discussion on how New York has been influencing cocktail culture around the world for many years. Liquid refreshments will be served.

“Cocktails for Your Home Cocktail Party” with Sasha Petraske
Famed (and oft-elusive) owner and proprietor of Milk and Honey Sasha Petraske will demonstrate the basics of creating cocktails in the home. He will go over how to set up and stock home bars of varying degrees of seriousness, as well as cover different scenarios of cocktail entertaining – from temporarily taking over your friend’s kitchen
for a house party, to grabbing the reins at a fully-equipped bar. And of course, Sasha will teach you how to prepare some basic, ever-pleasing libations for these occasions. Participants will leave armed with a no-fail recipe list and a short set of directions for preparing basic cocktails with block ice and fresh juices.

“The Agave Session: The Magical Elixirs of Mexico” with Steve Olson and Special Guests
There is a heritage and culture associated with Tequila and Mezcal that dates back well over a thousand years, when the agave plant – also known as the maguey – was utilized by Mexico’s native peoples for virtually everything: from food and drink, to sugar, to shoes, soap, building supplies, and even medicine. Join us for an exciting tasting of this exotic elixir, each by artisan producers, as we pay homage to the heritage, history and culture of Mexico’s national spirit. It is also likely that agave-based libations will be consumed.

“The Many Faces of Cognac & Armagnac” with Julie Reiner, Charlotte Voisey & F. Paul Pacult
This one-time-only, comprehensive seminar joins celebrated master mixologists Julie Reiner and Charlotte Voisey with America’s spirits guru F. Paul Pacult on an extraordinary excursion deep into France's legendary AOC grape brandies, Cognac and Armagnac. Participants will first be taken on a guided tour of tasting a half-dozen remarkable brandies to see how these distilled and oak-matured cousins compare and contrast. Then, they will be treated to a Cognac cocktail, made by Julie, and an Armagnac cocktail, made by Charlotte. A rare opportunity to spend 90 minutes with three of America's most engaging spirits and cocktail personalities.

“History of the Cocktail in New York, 1810-1920” with Dave Wondrich
Among all the classes of American mixed drinks—the Cobblers, Sours, Fizzes, Coolers, Juleps and all the rest—the Cocktail stands as first among equals. If there’s something about a quick jolt of ice-cold, mixed-up boozy deliciousness that’s essentially American, then it’s quintessentially New York. And indeed, while many other cities have made key contributions to the Cocktail’s development, none has done so much as to shape it as Gotham. This seminar will attempt to track the interventions the city’s mixologists made in the idea of the Cocktail during the 110-odd years between its first documented appearance here and Prohibition. Liquid exhibits will be served.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

“Audrey and Gary’s Unparalleled Gin Palaver” with Audrey Saunders & Gary Regan
Audrey Saunders, Libation Goddess from New York’s Pegu Club, and perhaps the bartender most responsible for the resurgence of gin in the 21st century, will join Gary “gaz” Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology (2003) and The Bartender’s Gin Compendium (Fall 2009), to present gin-based cocktails, old, new, borrowed, and, well, you get the picture. They will wax lyrical on all things juniper; they will pontificate endlessly about the attributes of the Martini and of the MarTEAni, and they will display the splendor of cocktails made with dry gin, genever, Plymouth gin, and a most peculiar Old Tom. It’s probable that Saunders and Regan will flirt shamelessly throughout the workshop. The throwing of rotting fruit or vegetables will not be permitted.

“Glasses & Tools: How Do You Choose the Right Glass for a Drink?” with Dale DeGroff
The choice of glass can mean the difference between a successful and elegant drink, or a glass of booze. In a commercial operation, the choice of glass can impact dramatically on the bottom line. At the home bar, the choice of glass can have an impact on the success of your cocktail party, and the well-being of your guests. Explore the classics with Dale DeGroff as he culls his glass collection to find the perfect glass for well-known classics and the tools to make them successfully.

“Call of the Rye” with Allen Katz
Ryes, Ryes my beloved,
Meet me down by The Bowery.
There will I give you my love.

By history and culture,
With song, per chance dance,
A Savor to be kissed by kisses.

O, my dear, come…
Ryes at the day break.

As the shadows enter over Astor.
O friends, drink, yea, drink abundantly,
O, beloved.

“Sherry: The Cobbler and Beyond” with Andy Seymour
Sherry has long played an important role in the world of mixology and has emerged in this new age of the cocktail more popular than ever. Join Master Mixologist and U.S. Sherry Ambassador Andy Seymour for a fascinating look at one of the world’s most cocktail (and food) friendly wines. Taste five of the finest Sherry, representing its many styles, and sample cocktails that show off Sherry’s traditional side and what it is up to today. Come ready to shake, as Andy will lead the group in building their own version of the Sherry cobbler!

Every event seems to end with the line, "drinks will be served," don't they? And what exactly is a "cocktail personality"?

Now, That's Good Liquor Advertising

While the vodka and liqueur companies are busy selling their product through the use of bizarre robots, dissolute drunken celebutantes and off-putting hillbillies, Johnnie Walker has come up with an ad that is simultaneous entertaining, education, classy and atmospheric, and actually works beautifully as a short film. It's six-and-a-half minutes long (actually, five minutes, if you skip the credits), and stars Scottish actor Robert Carlyle narrating the history of the brand as he walks down a road in the Scottish highlands. It's thrillingly shot in one single take, a la Orson Welles.

Now, I watched this video last night. But this morning I can't find it. Everyplace I look, I find the disclaimer, "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Bartle Bogle Hegarty Limited." Sorry for the tease, but I honestly don't know where this video went.

UPDATE: Someone helped me find it. Here you go.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Sipping News

Flowers are being deployed in drink pell-mell across the country. [NY Times]

Eric Asimov praises Italian white wines. I'm with him! [NY Times]

Jeff Berry is going to Hawaii to determine who rightly owns the Mai Tai. His Aug. 22 slide-show seminar, “Who’s Your Daddy? A Mai Tai Paternity Test." [Beachbum Berry]

Does Grey Goose Contain Glycerine—a cliffhanger. (Warning: the post doesn't answer the question; that will have to wait for another post.) [The Art of Drink]

Tyler Colman sings the praises of Beaujolais. Again, I'm with him! []

Alice Fiering praises a Steve Edmunds/Don Heistuman cabernet franc/gamay blend made in....California.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On the Difficulty of Obtaining a Real Swizzle Stick

The research I put into my recent New York Times article about swizzles possessed we with the notion that I must, must, must somehow get my hands on a real swizzle stick—the wooden kind that grow naturally from the Swizzle Stick Tree on various islands in the Caribbean.

When two friends of mine announced they were headed down Trinidad-way, I received promises from them both that they would come back with a swizzle stick. Trinidad was the home of the Queen's Park Hotel, which was in turn home to the Queen's Park Swizzle, the most famous swizzle drink of them all. How could I miss?

Well, apparently, the swizzle stick trade isn't what it used to be. Neither friend could locate the genuine item. Both, however, returned with larger, man-made facsimiles.

The one below forsakes the natural wooden prongs found at the joints of the Swizzle Stick Tree branches with a honeycomb of wiring, similar to that on a whisk.

This second one is made entirely out of wood, with the star-shaped object at the end obviously cut quickly by a jigsaw of something.

Both are on the large side, and I'm guessing that they're meant to swizzling things other than cocktails, such as punches or soups. (They swizzle everything in the Caribbean.) I can fit the metal one into certain glasses, but it's a trifle difficult extracting it once the drink is filled with ice. The wooden one unfortunately doesn't fit any highball glass I own.

The quest continues. Anyone out there heading downing south?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Old Fashioned Bar

Some of the best ideas are the simplest. Bartender Neyah White has come up with one of the best, and simplest, I've seen in a long time: The Old Fashioned Bar.

Participating in SFChefs.Food.Wine in Union Square, San Francisco, he set up a station where drinkers would have access to every possible ingredient option on the way to cocktail hour: whiskey, sweetener, bitters. I'll let White tell the rest:

Rather than committing to one spirit, I decided to call upon my favorite producers and gather as big an array of whisk(e)y as the bar could hold. In the end I had a full 30 brands.

To compliment all the spirits, I went a little over on the bitters and sugar. In addition to Angostura, Peychaud's and Regan's, I brought 8 homemade bitters and tinctures. For sugar I had traditional cubes, Muscavodo, Rapadura, Agave Nectar, Lavender Honey and beautiful Japanese sugar that was light like confectioners sugar but tasted like cane.

I had this selection out front so guests would come up, I would hand them a glass and muddle and coach them through making and old-fashioned. We talked about the options and then I would cut ice chunks while they muddled and mixed. I went over pretty well if i do say so myself.

Someone should make this a permanent feature in a bar somewhere.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Beer At….Killarney Rose

I take my $6 to the Financial District this week and buy a beer at the venerable old Killarney Rose, which looks like it belongs on Third Avenue and is a bit out of place in the sleek Wall Street area. Here's the Eater column:

Two tall, fit young men in gray slacks and striped, button-down shirts walk up to the bar at Pearl Street bar Killarney Rose and order beers and shots. The bartender, executing the request like he’s done is a thousand times, draws the Buds while tucking the bottle of Jameson under one arm. He places the beers before the men—one of a “half-yard”-er served a tall thin vessel that wouldn’t be out of place in a laboratory. The men down the shots in a show of rough, silent, male camaraderie. The small, empty glasses clank heavily on the wooden bar. The friends then return to their too-fevered discussion, in which one makes a fervent, juiced-up case for some aspect of his professional or personal life.

This happens again and again at this 41-year-old, Financial District watering hole, which is favored by jockish Wall Street types, with a smattering of older blue-collar men sitting on the fringes. These young bucks haven’t heard of many different kinds of booze: Bud, Sam Adams, Jameson, Glenlivet. Every now and then, you get a rebel. “I’m a Patron guy!” yells a blond, bespectacled lush. “I’m just saying!” Sometimes they get confused in their beer-shot-beer-shot-beer drinking circuits, until they wind up with two of the same thing. “Why are you drinking two beers,” asked one Dude of his Main Man. The Main Man wasn’t sure. He just picked up the two beers and took them to his table.

The Killarney Rose has two entrances, one at 127 Pearl Street, under an enormous red-and-green neon sign, and one, at the other end of the long, skinny room, on tiny Hanover Square. There’s a second entrance on Hanover to something called “The Hideout.” This is the second-floor party room of the Killarney. It’s purported to be nice, but few people seem to have ever seen it open.

For all its four decades of business, the joint doesn’t feel very old. Everything’s pretty lacquered and shiny in the modern tavern style. There are the usual Irish pub touches—Gaelic phrases on the walls, Shepherd’s Pie on the menu—and some nods to the 21st century, such as free internet access. Unsurprisingly, the place takes a hit on weekends, when the FiDi empties out. It offers $4 pints all day Saturday and Sunday to get people in, as well as events like the “$50 Beer Bus” to the Aug. 15 Mets game. “It’s a bus to the game,” the bartender explained, “only there’s beer on it.”

The trickiest thing about Killarney Rose is figuring out when the weekday happy hour is. There a bell behind the bar engraved with the words “Happy Hour.” When they ring it, prices go down; when they ring it again, prices rise. It’s never the same time any day. “If it was always at 5,” said the bartender, “they’d always come at 5.”
—Robert Simonson

The Point of a Rusty Nail

One of the interesting repercussions of the Cocktail Renaissance is that is has caused dusty old liqueur brands, worried about missing the marketing boat, to cling anew to the faded cocktails that once brought them fame and cash. Cherry Heering talks up the Singapore Sling. Galliano likes to bring up the Harvey Wallbanger. And Drambuie has a newborn affection for the Rusty Nail.

The Rusty Nail is the only famous mixed drink that calls for Drambuie, the family-owner, whisky-based liqueur out of Scotland. It's basically a slug of Scotch whiskey and a smaller quotient of Drambuie, served on the rocks. Given that it's whiskey with more whiskey added, the drink packs a considerable punch. It has a heft and power that fits in nicely with its heyday, the 1950s and '60s, when men were men and drank like it.

The Museum of the American Cocktail recipe book states that the Rusty Nail may have been invented at a Hawaiian bar in 1942 and named by artist Theodore Anderson. (Could be. You never know with these stories.)

The Drambuie people claim the Rusty Nail was the favored drink of the Rat Pack. I have to be honest; I had never heard this. But I don't doubt it much. Sinatra and the Boys always had a drink in their hand, usually of brown liquor, and some of them had to have been Rusty Nails.

Drambuie feels proprietary of the Rusty Nail for good reason. The drink sold so much Drambuie during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, that the U.S. became the liqueur's major market. Drambuie actually purchased the rights to the name of the drink and began bottling a pre-mixed version. The company still owns the rights. You can't serve anything called a Rusty Nail without there being some Drambuie in it.

Drambuie is currently at the end of a five-year plan to rejuvenate their brand. After peaking in the late '70s, the liqueur has lost market share every year since and now sells about half what it did then. They freely admit that their product's image could use some revving up. When someone mentioned Drambuie today, the reaction is usually, "Oh, my grandfather drank that." That's the problem in a nutshell. They want the young, rich crowd that covets their single-malt scotches. To that end, outside marketing experts were brought in to shake things up.

At a recent press event, the Drambuie people showed off their product in a variety of new cocktails (and one old one—the good old Rusty Nail made an appearance). To my thinking, the main battle the company has is in fighting the popular perception that Drambuie is rather heavy-going. Most of today's drinkers chase after light libations, typically based on vodka and tarted up with fruit flavors. Many of the drink served at the press event were delicious, but also a bit ponderous. One called Raising the Standard, made of Drambuie, Chivas Regal, Ruby Port, cherry syrup and Angostura, was dark as ink, and sumptuous. As long as you were eating some meat with it, it was fine. But you wouldn't necessarily want to drink it alone.

The most successful new cocktail was the one that surprised the most. Called simply a Summer Fruit Fizz, it contained Drambuie, apricot liqueur, green melon liqueur, egg white, lemon juice, lime juice and 7-up. It was frothy, airy and refreshing. It lifted up the Drambuie and made you forget what you thought it tasted like. More drinks like that, framing the honeyed liqueur in a new way, would seem to be the way to go.

(Above is a Drambuie bottle dating from the 1930s.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Mad Men" Drink With Accuracy

Get me writing about "Mad Men" and cocktails at the same time, and you have a happy reporter.

I've spent a good portion of the past month researching and writing a piece for the New York Times on whether the period experts over at "Mad Men" know what they're doing, history-wise, when they hand Don Draper an Old Fashioned and give Roger Sterling a Vodka Martini. Turns out: Yes they do.

Of the experts I interviewed for the article, none proved more valuable than Brian Rea, the 82-year-old career New York bartender ("21" Club, Little Club, etc.) who remembers who and what he served when he was 32. The man's memory is sharp as a tack.

Sixties Accuracy in Every Sip


EARLY in Season 1 of the AMC series “Mad Men,” Don Draper, the mysterious advertising executive at the core of the show, was seen at home emptying can after can of Fielding beer. Bloggers afflicted with the fact-checking gene quickly noted that there was no Fielding beer in the United States at the time.

“That was a huge mistake,” said Gay Perello, the show’s prop master since the second season. “I hated that label. Hated it.”

Ten years ago, few would have cared whether the executives at Sterling Cooper — the fictional 1960s advertising firm featured in the show, which begins its third season on Sunday — entertained a client with mai tais or bloody marys. But it was the show’s good fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it) to unveil its drink-centric world at a time when a growing fraternity of alcohol enthusiasts is rediscovering America’s rich drinking history. Now, the goof police are out.

Cocktails have been a vital element of the show right from the opening scene, which showed Don Draper sitting in a bar. Before the audience learns his name or his profession, he expresses his drink preference: “Do this again — old-fashioned, please.”

Other than the Fielding lapse, drink historians and barmen of a certain age say that “Mad Men” mostly gets its bibulous world right. Dale DeGroff benefits from a twin perspective. A former bartender at the Rainbow Room, he is often credited with rekindling interest in classic cocktails. But in the early 1970s, he worked at the influential advertising firm Lois Holland Callaway. One of the agency’s clients was Restaurant Associates, which ran such sensations as the Four Seasons and Forum of the Twelve Caesars.

“These ad guys made themselves experts on all the details that needed attention, including everything at the cocktail bars and even the wine lists,” Mr. DeGroff, 60, remembered.

That many ad men drank deeply seems unquestioned. The bartender and bar lore archivist Brian Rea, 82, worked in the 1950s at the Little Club, a popular Midtown restaurant. “Lunch was a big thing,” he said. “They took two and a half hours. We had a lot of agency people come in, from Cunningham & Walsh, BBDO, all having serious lunches with drinks.”

Carlo Marioni, 65, a New York bartender with more than 40 years’ experience who now works at Pietro’s, agreed: “Those years, for lunch, they used to drink three martinis. Then they’d come back before dinner for rusty nails, white spiders.”

If Mr. Rea and others give “Mad Men” high marks for nailing its milieu, part of the credit for this achievement goes to Ms. Perello, 43, who prepares every drink seen on the show, using nonalcoholic ingredients. “We’re definitely the alcohol department,” she said. “I can make an old-fashioned in my sleep now.”

To get an idea of the popular cocktails of the time and how they looked, Ms. Perello relies heavily on a volume from 1992 called “The Art of the Cocktail: 100 Classic Cocktail Recipes,” by Philip Collins. Little is left to chance. “We’re very picky about our glassware. Things are bit bigger and bulkier now. For a martini glass, we go a little smaller and thinner.” Period bottle labels and caps (old-style tax stamps, yes; bar codes, no) are recreated by the graphics department, using old ads as guides.

Occasionally, expediency dictates a decision. When an accounts executive was sent a case of gin by some British colleagues last season, Ms. Perello chose Tanqueray, though Beefeater then dominated the London dry gin market in the United States. “Tanqueray has not changed their bottle,” she explained. “With Beefeater, the bottles are completely different than they were. And I needed 12 bottles.”

Liquor is not only an integral part of many plotlines (last season, it played a pivotal role in a car crash, a divorce, a rape and two career implosions), but often a telling sign of character. When it comes to choosing a character’s poison, Ms. Perello said, many people have input, starting with the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner: “Matt will say, ‘I want them to have a brown liquor.’ And I’ll go, ‘Let’s do a nonblended Scotch, because this is a person who would appreciate that.’ ”

The cocktail historian David Wondrich, 48, thinks an old-fashioned is a conservative choice for the young Draper, but considers his preference for Canadian Club “exactly right. We’d had years of destruction of the American whiskey industry up until then. So the Canadian stuff was viewed as being pretty good.”

“The big Scotches were Bell’s, Black & White, Teacher’s, White Horse,” Mr. Rea said. “When you’re drinking Canadian Club, you’re showing people you drink a better brand” of whiskey. He and Mr. Wondrich also said Betty Draper’s taste for Tom Collinses and vodka gimlets was spot on.

Thirsts on “Mad Men” have not slackened in Season 3. Draper will vary his rye intake with Old Overholt, while Roger Sterling, Draper’s boss and the show’s resident booze philosopher, broadens his palate. About Sterling’s beloved vodka (bottles of Smirnoff made frequent cameos in earlier episodes) Mr. Rea said, “Martinis were the big thing in those days. Vodka was just beginning to come on strong.”

This season, Sterling gets his hands on some prized contraband: Soviet-made Stolichnaya (then not available in the United States). His priorities remain solidly in place. “Help yourself,” he tells a colleague. “Not the Stoli.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Your $10 Recession Wine of the Week: Domaine Pierre de la Grange Muscadet

This Muscadet Sevre & Maine Sur Lie—Domaine Pierre de la Grange—comes from the reliable importer Louis/Dresser, and is handsomely representative of its varietal. It has everything I look for in a Muscadet, but rarely fine—good bracing acidity, minerality, provacative vegetal notes—and at a wonderful price, $10.

Pierre et Monique Luneau-Papin head this 30-hectare estate in Le Landreau. Their estate has been in existence since the early 18th century when it was already planted with Melon de Bourgogne. Pierre and Monique are the eighth generation of winemakers in the family.

The harvest is done by hand, a rarity in the region, to avoid any oxidation before pressing. There is an immediate light débourbage (separation of juice from gross lees), then a 4-week fermentation at 68 degrees, followed by 6 months of aging in stainless-steel vats on fine lees.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Sipping News

The Oyster Bar narrowly escapes losing its liquor license. [NY Times]

In praise of "orange wines." [The Pour]

What one cocktail blogger learned about shacking up with a bunch of other cocktail bloggers at the Tales of the Cocktail convention. [Dr. Bamboo]

Camper English tests the longevity of several simple syrup recipes so you don't have to. [Alcademics]

The year-long brunello di Montalcino investigation has finally drawn some conclusions, reports the NY Times. [NY Times] Read:

First, the seven wineries investigated by the Italian authorities were identified. They were: Antinori, Argiano, Banfi, Casanova di Neri, Marchese de Frescobaldi, Biondi Santi and Col d’Orcia.

Biondi Santi and Col d’Orcia were cleared of any wrongdoing.

The remaining five wineries were cited by the Italian authorities for having used unauthorized grapes to make their wines. Brunello di Montalcino is required to be 100 percent sangiovese. According to the official findings of the investigation, 17 people in the industry were found to have committed some form of transgression, from cheating in commercial transactions to falsely certifying public documents.

Both Banfi and Argiano are protesting the findings. The other three wineries have not commented.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Visit to Smith and Mills

Smith and Mills had been recommended to me a number of times over the past couple months as a worthy spot to stop and enjoy a cocktail, so, when recently in Tribeca, I decided to drop by.

I was told it was a small space, and small it was. A couple tables to the right, a couple tables to the left, a low ceiling, a bar dead ahead with a few stools. As a Tribeca studio apartment, it would probably go for about $3,000 a month. The space was a former carriage house and the owners have done their ironic best to remind us at every turn of the structures working-glass past. A sliding metal door leads the way to the bathroom, which looks like (was?) an industrial elevator. There are pulleys and old construction lights on the walls. The perhaps too-precious atmosphere was that of an old tool shed crossed with an atmospheric, Old World rathskeller. It has a cellar-like feel that makes you think you're below street level (when, really, the street is two step away).

The menu was as small as the space. A few select wines, a few select beers. Of cocktails, seven or eight were listed, nearly all of them classics: Dark and Stormy, Old Fashioned, Negroni, etc.

If you offer just a handful of cocktails, you do them expertly, right? That was my hope. I ordered a Negroni. I knew they would automatically give it to me served up if I didn't specify, so I specified: on the rocks. I like that drink better that way, and many cocktail historians believe that's how the Negroni was first devised.

This is what my bartender did. He poured the three ingredients into a bar glass, bottles aloft, sans jigger, estimating with his eye. He added ice and stirred for about 30 seconds. Then he took out a rocks glass and dumped the contents of the bar glass, ice and all, into the smaller vessel. A twist and the drink was mine.

Sloppy doesn't begin to describe the execution. The drink was OK, but a bit watery and heavy on the Campari. That's what happens when you don't measure and use diluted mixing ice in your finished product.

I did not order a second drink after this disappointing experience. I'll have to give Smith and Mills another try. I know talented bartenders work there. They just weren't there the night I went.